Of all the equipment I’ve bought on a whim, I can’t think of a single item that has worked out as well as my single-tube plug bag. I use it at least a few times a month, throughout the season, and it has turned a skunking into success on multiple occasions. Not only that, but it has also made my life so much easier at times, allowing me to wander the coastline for miles and miles unencumbered by a heavy plug bag. With that said, it’s also one of the most misunderstood accessories for your surf fishing belt.
Over the years I have heard many anglers scoff at the single-tube bag, calling it a waste of money and space. And I admit, for years I felt similarly. As someone who often had (and still has) trouble triaging plugs for the space in a massive three-tube bag, the thought of a two-tube bag being sufficient for any scenario was hard for me to believe; a single tube seemed downright ridiculous! However, as I progressed and learned more, I found that a two-tube bag was sometimes sufficient. Then one season I got into a bite of fish in June that I followed throughout the night and into dawn for a week. I was frustrated that I couldn’t carry both night plugs and daytime plugs in my two-tube bag, so on a whim I ordered a single-tube bag from the Saltwater Edge. I figured it would get used for one thing only: to bring a few daytime plugs in case I got into good action and stayed up all night. However, as it turned out, it’s become far more useful than I could have ever imagined.
Up All Night
As I just alluded to, I think one of the best uses of a single-tube bag is when fishing from full-dark into daylight, or vice-versa. On many occasions each season I make the decision to fish tides that fall around 3am. While these wreck my sleep schedule, if I think there is a possibility of hooking up with a 40-pounder I coffee-up and just deal with it; sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. However, as an almost exclusive night time fisherman, these tides have a bonus benefit of allowing me to fish into daylight. That said, I consider false-dawn and sun-up on these mornings secondary to the night bite; they are not my focus. Even if I think there is potential for some fish, many times I leave when the dawn-patrol begins to arrive simply because I do not want to be spotted. Therefore, prior to getting a single-tube bag, I would almost always forgo pencil poppers, spooks, and little-neck poppers for more darters, needles, and glide baits when space got tight in my bag. The payoff for carrying the daytime plugs seemed low, and somewhat of a hassle; the single tube changed that.
If you think you may have a shot of fishing sunrise, the single tube allows you to pack some emergency dawn/daylight plugs. I pack a few topwater lures and maybe a tin or two in my single tube, but I don’t even put it on my surf belt. I either simply carry it or shove it in my Stormr Surf Top front pocket until I reach a spot I want to fish. I then throw it on the shoreline somewhere (taking a moment to memorize its location) so I don’t have to carry it the whole tide. If I decide to stay and fish into daylight, I go retrieve the tube, swap some of my night plugs for daytime ones in the bag on my belt, and head back out again. The number of times this has been necessary is very low, but every single one of those fish I caught would not have been landed without the single-tube bag. In my opinion, this alone has been worth the small cost necessary to purchase a single-tube, back-up bag.
Along the lines of using the single tube as a morning back-up plan, there are four additional scenarios in which I have either used, or have encouraged others to use, the single-tube plug bag. They include bucktailing, fishing soft plastics, eeling and fly fishing.
First, if you’re primarily a bucktail fisherman or soft-plastic obsessed, having a single tube back-up on your belt gives you a little flexibility to carry a few emergency plugs. For example, when I used to fish inlets and breachways quite regularly, I carried a large bucktail pouch stuffed with bucktails and trailers, as well as a single tube with a couple darters (Super Strike or Mike’s Custom), a glide bait (Stick Shadd), and a plastic swimmer (Bomber 16a). While I was 99% certain the bucktails would be sufficient for how I fished the inlet, I wanted to have plugs in case I decided to walk up inside the back water, fish around the jetty pocket, work along the seams at the tip or some other less-common scenario. They rarely got used, but it made me feel more confident knowing I had them if I needed them. This also applies to guys that primarily use soft plastics on jig heads. If you carry paddle tails and Zoom-style soft plastics, but want something that can cast further or replicate some other profile, you can use a single-tube bag as an emergency back-up.
For those that primarily fish eels—dead or alive—the single tube affords the same flexibility for you as well. One of my friends continues to carry a three-tube bag even though he rarely fishes anything but the eels which he carries in a mesh bag attached to his hip. I have been trying to get him to switch to a single tube for years now, and I hope you will follow my advice and not his example! I understand his desire to have some plugs because while extremely rare, there are some situations where stripers pass up eels for plugs. However, is it necessary to carry 10 pounds of lures every night that don’t get touched for weeks on end? Why not just bring a few tried-and-true lures in a single tube instead? A few of the big reasons to carry plugs even when you’re eeling include securing increased casting distance and a far more aggressive and active presentation. Knowing this, I would suggest picking a few plugs that excel at these weaknesses of the eel. Since carrying eels in a pouch is not particularly cumbersome, adding a single tube to your belt will hardly be noticed; a plug bag slung over your shoulder surely will.
Finally, I get asked all the time: “When you first start fly fishing the surf, do you just take the fly rod, or do you carry both the wimpy stick and the surf rod?” When I first started fly fishing, I did the latter: I brought both. I did not have the confidence in my casting distance or fly selection, and I needed plugs to confirm the fish were there, where they were holding, and their behavior. Once I located some fish, I would then switch to the fly rod with much stronger self-confidence. I didn’t have my single tube back then so I used a traditional two-tube bag to hold my search plugs. Let me assure you that carrying two rods, a stripping basket, a plug bag, and a fly fishing sling pack is very annoying. Now, on the very rare occasion when I carry both, I use an eel pouch on my belt for the flies, and a single-tube bag on my belt to hold a handful of plugs. With this set-up I can seamlessly switch back and forth and it’s far less gear to carry and keep track of throughout the night. If you’re considering fly fishing in 2021 for the first time (or are new to the fly game in the last couple years) consider getting a single-tube bag to streamline switching back and forth.
For Those That Wander
A single tube is also a great option if you’re someone who likes to walk far distances or cover a lot of ground in search of fish. I have been known to pack nothing but needlefish and a few swimming plugs with me on long five- to ten-mile excursions on the outer Cape. These are slim plugs, and there’s no issue shoving five or six needles and a couple swimmers in the single tube. I can always bring a small pouch and pack a single Stick Shadd, a couple bucktails, and a few Slug-Gos if I feel they’re necessary. What else do you really need for the sand beaches?
As someone who has already admitted they are paranoid about not having the perfect plug on every night, it is freeing at times to fall back on tried-and-true plugs and the simplicity that comes with the single tube. This ultra-lightweight setup allows me to stay out longer, and walk further, and as a result catch more fish. Nothing is worse than slogging along for miles carrying a stuffed three-tube bag!
Additionally, the vast sand beaches of Cape Cod and the broken shores of the Elizabeth Islands are the only places I carry a backpack. As any surfcaster quickly learns, the weather on the coast is extremely temperamental and I rarely trust the meteorologists; they have let me down on too many occasions. Further, casting distance and (in the case of the rocky shorelines of the islands) structure is extremely variable on many of my expeditions and require a myriad of plug presentations. Therefore, it pays to be ready for just about anything. Since I walk far distances and fish long hours, I find a three-tube bag painful (literally) to carry. Instead, what I do is stash my two-tube bag in a backpack (along with water, food, and any other supplies I might need) and put my single tube on my waist. I can set the backpack down on shore, getting the weight off my body, and use it like a lure and gear locker. The single tube on my person accommodates the lures being used at the moment, and I can swap them with plugs in the backpack as I deem necessary. Sometimes I do the exact opposite: I put a two-tube bag on my waist but bring the single tube (sometimes without the sheath) and leave it in my back pack or up on the beach. I do this when I’m afraid the wind might be just too savage for most of the plugs I’ve packed, and I want to bring some big-wind weapons.
This year on the outer Cape beaches I was saved one night by bringing two heavy Super Strike needles and a big bucktail; they were the only plugs that would make it beyond the breaking waves and into clean water. The wind was supposed to shift and drop to 15 knots, but instead it was full-on east at 25-plus knots. Had I not packed those plugs in the single tube I would have wasted a lot of gas money, time in the car, and miles on my feet with little to show for it. Instead, the night ended with success and 40-or-so fish landed. I believe this would not have happened if I had not had those back-up plugs in the single-tube bag.
There are likely many other uses that I have yet to discover, and I encourage you to think about how the single-tube bag may help you in your 2021 season.